Spectral (2016): Another Video Game Movie (Review)

Promotional still for Spectral

While this is not a complaint, it is more an observation, Spectral is, in essence, a video game movie. Taking bits from classic survival horror game Fatal Frame, aka Project Zero and the horror shoot ’em up F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon this Netflix offering, produced initially by Universal and then thrown in the bin, is entertaining.

It stars James Badge Dale as Dr. Clyne, the man who invented the special lenses that the Army uses. Emily Mortimer is the CIA agent, Max Martini is the fearless leader, who looks incredibly authentic; right down to that chiseled cleft in his chin, and hotter than hot Clayne Crawford (minus his partner in crime Damon Wayans).

The story is that soldiers are being killed by these “spectral” images that can only be seen with the special camera lenses, a’la Fatal Frame.  Clyne is flown to the exotic location where these “glitches” are running through the fighting force like a hot knife through butter.

Local commander General Orland (played by the brilliant Bruce Greenwood in what can be described as an incredibly long cameo) asks Clyne to tell him what the ghostly images caught on film are.  The local spook advisor CIA agent Fran Madison believes the images are of enemy soldiers in advanced camouflage, Clyne disagrees.

The film follows the men that Clyne travels with, a group that do not trust the “tourist” in their midst.  The doctor invents a camera that will show the spectres without the camera lenses.

Eventually they learn what the deadly images are and how they are created, a process that is evocative of F.E.A.R., this information allows the military men to track the things down to their origin and attempt to destroy them.

The action is effective and moves the story forward. There is a sense of danger and the suspense factor is impressive. As the things chase and kill off a large number of soldiers when another one appears, the inclination of the viewer is to immediately tense up.

Deaths are, for the most part, bloodless. The “ghosts” zoom through their victim and they fall over dead.  The creation of the phantom Army is explained as being part of an Albert Einstein collaboration that has been improved upon.

Spectral could also be seen as being a sort of riff on the 2011 film Battle Los Angeles where the spectral images take the place of invading aliens. Regardless of any similarities between plot lines the film is clever with its own storyline and the characters in it.

The cast all bring something valid and quite truthful to the table. Clayne Crawford shows that he can command attention even when he is not in the boots of Martin Riggs. Martini’s very essence screams military leader, or cop, and Greenwood provides a sort of dry gravitas to any role he plays.

Emily Mortimer proves once again that when it comes to American accents, she has no peer. This English London born actress gives “good American.”

Dale is quite effective as the scientist forced to fight for his life in the field.  The effects in Spectral work very well and are indeed very evocative of the spooks in Fatal Frame.

Director Nic Mathieu gives a brilliant rendering of a science fiction thriller based upon a story Nic and Ian Fried;  George Nolfi wrote the screenplay. At 107 minutes the film does seem, at times, over-long but overall the action manages to make up any short falls in pacing. 

Spectral is a splendid 4.5 star film. It loses half a star due to its resemblance to other projects in the genre and for being just a tad overly long.

It is, however, well worth a look. It is classed as a “Netflix Original” and since they saved the movie from the bin, where it had been tossed by Universal, it is by all rights theirs to claim.

Head on over and take a peak, after finishing your holiday repast and see what you think.

Atari: Game Over (2014) Urban Myth Deconstructed

ET found in Atari: Game Over
Zak Penn, who has written a slew of superhero films and directed two films of his own before this one, was the motivator and creative impetus behind and in front of Atari: Game Over. Penn decides to follow and deconstruct the facts that made up the urban myth of the ET video game killing off not just a major game company but an industry.

For those of a certain age, the name Atari has special meaning. The first company to really break the boundaries of home entertainment and to bring video games into the front rooms of the world. What Penn’s documentary does is go back to the story of Atari, the company’s meteoric climb and then its sudden end. The film may follow the Alamogordo trail where, in the world of gaming myth, a million ET Atari games are said to be under tons of dirt at the town landfill. The rumor has been that these unsold “unplayable” video game cartridges were buried there way back in 1983 just as the game company was going under.

The journey that Penn takes the viewer on is one of discovery, if the audience is young enough, or a trip down memory lane if the audience are over a certain age. The idea that one single game was so bad that it crushed a company and “destroyed” the video game industry is laughable yet still believable when considering the gaming community and its increased tendency to rip apart games, old ones and new ones appearing on the market.

Atari: Game Over follows the pioneers who developed “coin op” games to be played on the old Zenith or Motorola or (fill in brand name here) televisions in millions of home across the world. It also recounts the birth of game engineer as “rock star.” Speaking to the guy who made the ET game in just five weeks Howard Scott Warshaw; who was and is a legend in the industry, the film lets the gamer into the early world of games development and the free wheeling atmosphere that ruled behind those closed creative doors.

Despite the “backstory” where the filmmaker talks to the people who were part of the action “back in the day,” like a gaming version of Halt and Catch Fire but without Lee Pace and all the smugness that show suffers from, the film is really about all those millions of Atari ET game cartridges shoved into the ground in the town closest to where the nuclear bomb was first tested.

The filmmakers talk to Joe Lewandowski, who maintained for years that the games were indeed buried there and even worked out their exact location. Cameras were present for the actual “dig” and although the work was disrupted by a sand storm blowing in from White Sands Park the cartridges were found. Ernest Cline, the guy who wrote Ready Player One and Fanboys, participates in the film as well.

*sidenote* Cline stops by Santa Fe and borrows the DeLorean from Back to the Future from Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin…How cool is that? (Sorry, fanboy geeky moment over.)

Not everyone will enjoy this documentary or even understand the necessity of Zak Penn’s decision to make it. As one who lived in Alamogordo, from 1980 to 1982 and played on an Atari 2600 for the first time at Holloman, AFB (the USAF base outside the town) during that two years, this film was a delightful surprise.

In the film, the enormous amount of gamers who arrived at the small town to see if there really were millions of ET game cartridges under that landfill looked eerily familiar to the scores of press and public (and vendors) who lined the roads back when the Space Shuttle was diverted to Alamogordo back in 1982. It is amazing that all this occurred back in 2014 and was missed by at least one older gamer who only discovered the documentary recently.

This film is a brilliant look at a part of history that became a part of urban myth. What really destroyed Atari? Perhaps Warshaw’s pronouncement of hubris or a glutted market or the winds of change combined to not only bring the company down, but also put the dampers on ET. Regardless of just why the Steven Spielberg endorsed video game became a part of myth and whether or not it had anything to do with the demise of a company and industry, the documentary is entertaining and informative.

Keep an eye out for the Raiders of the Lost Ark reference that Penn sets up toward the end of the film. Atari: Game Over is a 5 star film; a fun eye opening look at the early video games industry and the unmasking of an games urban myth. This Showtime documentary is available on Hulu as part of its new add-on, gamers head on over if you have not already.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr Surprising Comic and Video Game Connection

Efrem Zimbalist Jr Surprising Comic and Video Game Connection

The news that Efrem Zimbalist Jr. has died at age 95 is saddening, this man was the face associated with the F.B.I. for years and a part of television history, but he also had a surprising comic book and video game connection. The deep-voiced cultured characters that made up so many of Zimbalist’s performances was pushed to the side after he left television screens as Inspector Lewis Erskine on the long running TV program The FBI.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Like Being in an Awesome Video Game (Trailer/Review)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Like Being in an Awesome Video Game (Trailer/Review)

Watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was like being in the middle of one the world’s most awesome video games. Speaking to another “Spidey” fan two weeks prior to this advanced screening, we both agreed that the first of the Spider-Man remakes felt as though the filmmakers had taken a leaf out of the video gameMirror’s Edge. For those who have not played the game, it was the “first” first-person action/adventure platforming game and it was developed by EA Digital Illusions CE.


The Walking Dead: Telltale Games AMC and Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead: Telltale Games AMC and Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead has a fairly unique fan-base; they are spread out over Telltale Games and their award winning video game; AMC with their, also, award winning show and the man who created it all via a comic book series, Robert Kirkman. It is the creator who has his hands in each slice of this walker pie and the man who helps to make all the different verses of the Walking Dead work.

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